Myanmar’s deputy immigration minister has rejected an appeal by nationalists to strip hundreds of Muslims of citizenship, local media reported Wednesday, marking a rare show of government defiance of Buddhist hardliners.
Just over 200 Muslims in conflict-hit Rakhine state were granted citizenship as part of a government verification process that started in mid-2014.
In late October, campaigners submitted a petition to parliament signed by over 1,100 people objecting to the decision and claiming that the Muslims had been granted citizenship using defunct laws.
The Myanmar Times reported Wednesday that deputy immigration minister Win Myint had rejected the petition, telling members of parliament that the signatories had misunderstood the law.
Rakhine is home to roughly one million Rohingya Muslims, who are officially regarded as outsiders and are largely stateless — government officials insist they are illegal immigrants and refer to them as “Bengalis”.
The verification process was ostensibly a means of granting some a “pathway” to citizenship.
The United Nations, however, has condemned the process because it compels Rohingya to identify as Bengalis.
Muslims who were granted citizenship under a pilot program in Myebon township “did not experience an improvement in the enjoyment of their rights,” the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights said in September.
The Rohingya, supported by rights groups, argue that their families have lived in Myanmar for generations, and that therefore the entire minority should be granted citizenship.
They face vehement opposition from Buddhist extremists who regard them as invaders.
In 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee their homes when extremist-led mobs attacked villages, burning houses down and killing hundreds.